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Accident at intersection raises more questions than answers

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    Kaitlin Lembo/Columbia-Greene Media The sign at the entrance to Cairo-Durham Middle and High School in Durham.
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    Kaitlin Lembo/Columbia-Greene Media The intersection in question as seen from an elevated portion of the school’s driveway.
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    Kaitlin Lembo/Columbia-Greene Media Cairo-Durham Middle and High School. The entrance to the school is controversial, as several major accidents have happened in the last seven years.
February 11, 2018 12:15 am Updated: February 14, 2018 04:59 pm

DURHAM — An accident near the entrance of Cairo-Durham Middle and High School sent two people to the hospital, police said Wednesday.

The accident, which occurred Friday at 7:28 a.m., involved a community resident, a former student and a teacher, according to a statement from school officials. 

Joelle Tyrrell, 18, of East Durham was traveling north on Route 145 when she looked down to adjust her dashboard brightness, state police public information officer Steven Nevel said Wednesday.

Tyrrell looked up and saw the vehicle in front of her driven by Daniel Eckard, 33, of Cohoes, slowing down. Tyrrell hit Eckard from behind, Nevel said. Tyrrell’s vehicle, a 2003 Volkswagen Passat, then bounced off Eckard’s car and hit a vehicle driven by Steven Roe, 43, of Gilboa.

Eckard was driving a 2009 Kia, Nevel said. Roe was driving a 1999 Chevrolet Corvette.

Tyrrell was ticketed for following too closely, Nevel said. Speed, drugs and alcohol were not factors in the accident and all three drivers were wearing seat belts, he said.

Tyrrell complained of wrist pain at the scene and was taken by ambulance to Columbia Memorial Health, Nevel said. Roe complained of right-leg pain and was taken to Albany Medical Center.

All three are expected to recover, Cairo-Durham officials said, adding the injuries were not life-threatening.

State police and Durham police investigated the crash. 

In the wake of Friday’s crash, the school district is stepping up efforts to put a traffic signal at the intersection of Route 145 and the school’s entrance to make the spot safer for everyone, district Superintendent Anthony Taibi said.

“Although the [Department of Transportation] has denied a traffic signal in the past, we are going in another direction and continuing to find solutions,” Taibi said.

The accident is one of many, according to school officials. 

“Many of us know this is not the first accident to occur in this location,” according to the district statement. “Despite the district’s multiple efforts to make traffic changes at the school entrance, and although the district continues to pursue these efforts, it still comes down to driver education to encourage safe and cautious driving.”

The district produced a one-minute video called “Wait, Look and Drive 45.” The video was created in spring 2017 to encourage safe driving in front of the school.

The school district has been trying to reduce the speed limit in front of the school entrance for years, according to the school’s website. 

“The entrance to the middle/high school campus is of great concern to the overall safety to students, staff and the community,” Taibi said in a June 2016 letter.

The first attempt to curb accidents on the road came in 2011, after student Erika Cook, 17, was killed and student Samantha Pagan, 18, was seriously injured.

“After that accident, a coordinated effort attempted to make the entrance safer by installing a traffic signal at the entrance of the school,” according to the letter.

That signal was not approved by the state. After the accident, the state did decide to slow down the speed of the road to 45 mph, according to the letter. The letter added the state also removed the passing lane in front of the school.

“This ‘solution’ is not enough,” according to the letter.

Tragedy struck again in May 2016 when former high school principal Nick Fitzgerald was involved in a serious accident and was transported to Albany Medical Center.

“Both of these accidents, along with others, could have been avoided if a traffic signal and turning lane were installed or constructed at the entrance of the middle/high school,” according to the letter.

A video showing dashboard camera footage of an obscured vehicle making itself visible moments before the owner of the camera was going to take a left was also attached to the video.

“As you will see, the approaching vehicle is completely obscured by the car in front of it until it has already committed to making the turn,” according to the letter. “I think [this video] shows how critical it is to have a light at the entrance to the middle/high school.”

The state probably did not have the perspective the video offered when it first reviewed the intersection in 2011, Taibi said.

In 2016, for the second time in five years, the state Department of Transportation denied the district’s request to install a traffic signal.

“Unfortunately, the state determined that the intersection did not meet the necessary criteria and that the circumstances do not support the installation of a traffic signal at this location,” according to the statement.

“At this time, we cannot comment until we have seen the police report and have more information regarding the accident,” Department of Transportation spokesman Bryan Viggiani said.

District officials met with county lawmakers, including Legislator William Lawrence, R-Cairo, in December 2016 to talk about what the county can do to make the intersection safer.

“We met with [former Assemblyman] Peter Lopez, R-102, after the 2016 meeting and applied for a multi-modal grant,” Lawrence said Saturday. “The grant would help obtain a speed sign that flashes how fast a car is going and could take pictures of a speeding car’s license plate. If a car is habitually shown to be speeding through the area, we would refer it to the police department.”

Lawrence said the grant is still in progress because Lopez is no longer in the Assembly.
“It’s in the hands of someone else now,” Lawrence said. “We applied for $50,000.”

Other measures brought up at the meeting included increasing police presence on Route 145 and driver education to encourage safe driving, according to the website. Pamphlets, presentations and announcements would comprise the education.

“Officers from Cairo, Durham and the Greene County Sheriff’s Department increased patrols in front of the school from January to June of last year,” Lawrence said. “They stopped after June; I think we all thought the problem was solved.”

Lawrence said the problem isn’t the visibility, it’s speed.
“The Department of Transportation keeps telling us speed is the problem,” Lawrence said. “The police patrols worked pretty good.”

Lawrence said increased police patrols are the best option for the troublesome intersection right now.
Eighty-five percent of drivers passing by the school are speeding, according to the website. The study was conducted by the Department of Transportation.

To reach reporter Kaitlin Lembo, call 518-828-1616 ext. 2513, email, or tweet to @kaitlinlembo.